On November 2nd, two days before the election, I preached a message on political embodiment called, “Salt, Light, and Voting,” which I was more pleased with than any sermon I’ve preached this year. In it, I asked the congregation to consider what it would look like for a Christian not so much to be political, but to be peculiar, and the impact that such a life would have on the world.
The word “peculiar” has marked much of my public discourse lately, and so I’ve started to take some ribbing for it anytime I use it. What can I say? It’s a great word to describe the sort of living to which Christ calls us in a world that is anti-Christ.
As I read Luke 6:27-36 this morning (the “love your enemies” passage), I thought seriously about writing another post on my growing proclivity for nonviolence, but thought better of it since, in the past, the discussions that follow such posts in the comments section of this blog haven’t been particularly loving nor helpful. So instead, I offer some more general (but perhaps more helpful) thoughts from my journal entry this morning:
“Luke 6:27-36 (and par.) has hit me with such fresh power again and again this year. What strikes me freshly this morning is Jesus’ emphasis on pecularity (sorry—there it is again). When we approach this passage, we tend to want to try to define under which circumstances Jesus’ commands to love one’s enemies, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who abuse you, to invite a second helping from those who hurt you, and to offer more to those who steal from you do not apply.
In other words, we all agree that Jesus said this and that nonviolence of some kind was a defining characteristic of his interpersonal ethics. But then we go and add a series of qualifiers based on which sorts of situations we think Jesus might and might not have had in mind (buglarization of one’s home, threats to one’s personal security, protection of the innocent, just war, etc.) when he said this. The extent of our qualifiers is where our disagreements come. But this is not how Jesus himself explains his command to love one’s enemies:
‘If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same?‘ (vv. 32-33). Furthermore, ‘Be merciful even as your Father is merciful‘ (v. 36).
In other words, Jesus’ application of his enemy-love command does not focus on situations. It focuses on peculiarity. How does our conduct in response to aggression and violence look different from those who do not embrace Christ’s example and pattern of living? How is our response peculiar? How does our response exemplify the Father’s mercy?
Let’s remind ourselves of the nature of the Father’s mercy: Rebels, condemned to Hell, repeatedly and without warrant offend their Creator, who, rather than returning violence for violence or aggression for aggression, dies for these rebels and takes them as his bride. But the rebels continue to rebel, committing adultery against their groom. But he holds them still, choosing not to retaliate, but instead seeks to redeem and transform them into beautiful companions.
Does the ‘mercy’ I show when I am attacked, abused, or otherwise threatened look anything like this?
Let us all honestly ask ourselves the questions that Jesus poses and see where those questions might lead us as we think about the answers to situational questions.